A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) – So for some time, I have been having some issues with Family Guy. It still has a certain way with irreverent and offensive humor, but it’s best jokes tend to be in cutaway gags that have nothing to do with the main narrative. I mean, I’m all for whatever gets a laugh but Family Guy has more-or-less lost the ability to tell a cohesive story. (Oddly enough, Seth MacFarlane’s other animated show, American Dad!, just gets better and better in this department.) So when I heard that MacFarlane was branching out into a feature films, I was skeptical. If he can’t keep a story together for 22 minutes, how is he going to manage an hour and a half? When it came out, Ted surprised the hell out of me by being hilarious and having a strong central narrative (though still heavy on MacFarlane’s overly-referential humor). So now, MacFarlane has branched out into the niche genre of Western comedy. I love Westerns so the material is ample. But that does mean he’ll be standing in the shadow of unparalleled masterpiece Blazing Saddles. So how does A Million Ways to Die in the West fare? Does MacFarlane continue his winning streak in feature films or has he bit off more than he can chew?

Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is a sheep rancher who seems to have been born in the wrong era. The town on Old Stump, Arizona in 1882 is just generally a shitty time and place to be alive and only Albert seems to realize it, pointing out that “everything that is not you is trying to kill you.” His point is proven MANY times through the course of the film. (And premature death has to be a worry for anyone named Stark!). On the opposite end of the spectrum is Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), a vicious bastard that seems to be perfectly suited to this point in history. After a robbery he sends his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) to Old Stump to lay low. Albert has just been dumped by his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) after he withdrew from a duel. She can’t be with a coward and takes up with the owner of the local “moustachery” Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). When Albert meets Anna, they hit it off. She decides to teach him how to be more of a man in order to win Louise back. But things get complicated when Clinch comes looking for her.

A Million Ways to Die in the West throws a LOT of jokes your way. The trouble is they don’t all land. The narrative structure is, as in Ted, solid enough to support the movie. The problem is not all the jokes are. The movie has enough hilarious gags to be considered enjoyable overall, but enough fall flat that it’s not going down as any kind of classic. Some jokes get run into the ground. For example, Albert’s friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) is dating a local prostitute named Ruth (Sarah Silverman). She gets fucked several times a day for money but because they’re “good Christians,” she and Edward never have premarital sex. That’s a funny enough premise but they don’t do much with it except repeat it several times. (And include one cum gag that just reminds you how much better the one in There’s Something About Mary is.) A lot of the jokes are merely references to other things (including one involving a familiar cameo that WOULD have been hilarious if it hadn’t been spoiled in the advertisements). Another (mercifully unspoiled one) waits after the credits. Still, merely saying “hey, remember this other thing?” isn’t really a joke by itself. Down that dark path lies Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer and their wretched collected of “[Genre] Movie” so-called spoofs. If this movie is on cable and nothing better is on, give it a watch, but don’t expect too much. Ted got my hopes up more than it should have. This is probably more the movie I should have expected from the dude behind Family Guy.

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